All of the hype throughout last week’s development camp at Centennial Sportsplex was focused on two players: Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg. However, on the final day of development camp when the prospects were split into two teams and scrimmaged in front of hundreds of Nashville Predators fans, it was Austin Watson that stole the show.
Watson was a first-round pick of the Predators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and spent some time in Nashville last season due to the onslaught of injuries that took aim at the Predators’ lineup toward the end of one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise. He logged six games with Nashville last season and seemed to get better with each game that he played after struggling to get accustomed to the speed of the NHL game in his first couple of appearances.
In his sixth game played, Watson was finally able to break through and score his first career NHL goal against the Calgary Flames. With an extremely small sampling of NHL experience, Watson is coming into this summer with a lot of confidence. He now knows how the game is played at the NHL level.
“I definitely have more confidence, a lot of it stemming from just knowing more of what I have to do to get to this level,” Watson said. “It was an exciting time and something I’ll never forget. I learned a lot and took a lot from it, and I think that adds to just the knowledge of what you have to do and what I’m going to continue to do this summer.”
Everything in the NHL happens at a much faster pace than it does in other levels of hockey. Obviously, that’s why it’s the best league in the world. Only the cream of the crop in the hockey world make it to the NHL, and that’s something that Watson got a taste of last season. He was able to take away a few lessons on how the game is played at the highest level of hockey in the world that has stuck with him.
“I think it’s just the consistency of the play,” Watson said. “There’s not a lot of room for mistakes out there, and everybody knows what they’re doing. Everybody makes the right play. That and just as far as the speed and the strength of the game, the guys compete for 60 minutes night in, night out at a high level athletically, so for me just to get to that strength level and be able to compete with those guys and against those guys on a nightly basis.”
Watson’s goal for the rest of the summer and the upcoming training camp is a very simple one. He got his taste of playing in the NHL last season, and he doesn’t want that taste to go away.
“I want to make the team,” Watson said. “I think if you ask anybody, that’s their goal. Obviously, what I can control is how I take care of myself this summer and what I do to prepare for that. Just come in here and try to make the team, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Watson certainly has the physical tools to make a serious run at landing an NHL spot this fall. One of the things that will be working against him, however, is a result of how active the Predators were in free agency. They landed four forwards that will undoubtedly make the NHL roster. Throw in a few other younger guys like Craig Smith, Taylor Beck and Forsberg, and all of a sudden Watson is going to have a real battle on his hands trying to make the NHL club.
About six months ago, the pipeline throughout the Nashville organization seemed to be running pretty dry. That has changed dramatically over the past few months with the acquisition of Forsberg, the plethora of young players gaining NHL experience last season and the 2013 NHL Entry Draft where they landed the Predators landed the top prospect in the entire draft in Jones. Watson is an important part of that mix for the Predators, and it’ll surely be an interesting training camp in Smashville to see who is going to be able to make the opening day roster.